In Game 1 of the Portland-Denver series, the Blazers put together a complete performance, headlined by Damian Lillard but with a number of players joining him in double figures to round out a thorough victory to swipe homecourt. In Game 2, Denver reversed those fortunes with an outstanding effort, headlined of course by the presumptive MVP in Nikola Jokic, but getting far better contributions overall from the rest of the team in a 128-109 win to even things at 1-1.
Jokic was outstanding from the jump, scoring 25 in the first half (38 for the game), and just dominating whatever matchup came his way, whether Jusuf Nurkic, Enes Kanter, or when Portland was silly enough to switch, a smaller defender. Denver ran out to an early double digit lead and threatened to run away with a blowout in a similar manner to the early game in Milwaukee, but Damian Lillard refused to let that happen, hitting a playoff record tying eight threes in the first half for 32 points.
25 points, 10-12 SHOOTING for Joker.
32 points, 8 THREES for Dame.
Ready for the 2nd half on TNT? 🍿🍿🍿 pic.twitter.com/gvEOwrkLgL
— NBA (@NBA) May 25, 2021
The star duel in the first half was sensational, but as the game wore on in the second half it devolved into a chippy, whistle-fest best exemplified by the fact that the foul calls go their own graphic midway through the fourth.
There’s been so many fouls in Blazers vs. Nuggets tonight that they’re getting their own graphic pic.twitter.com/KIf7bbnMRP
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) May 25, 2021
Through it all, Denver was able to stay on top thanks to Jokic’s brilliance and a much more well-rounded overall game offensively as a team. After having just one assist in Game 1, Jokic had five in Game 2, figuring out how to orchestrate the offense out of single coverage as his teammates did better to work off the ball to get open rather than simply relying on him to pass them open out of doubles. Five others finished in double figures, led by Michael Porter Jr’s 18, and it was just a tremendous adjustment to what had been a good Blazers game plan in Game 1.
On the other side, the Blazers just seemed like a frustrated team outside of Lillard’s first half outburst, as he finished with 42 points while only CJ McCollum (21) and Norman Powell (15) reached double figures around him. Nurkic fouled out in the early fourth quarter and while there were certainly some questionable calls — like this flagrant assessed to McCollum — their inability to establish a rhythm was not just an issue of officiating interrupting the game but Denver doing a much better job defensively.
The icing on the cake for the Nuggets came late in the fourth on this give-and-go between Jokic and Campazzo, who went between McCollum’s legs on the bounce pass to set up the MVP for a layup.
The series now shifts back to Portland tied 1-1, with almost identical game flows to the first two games, just on different sides. In Game 1, it was the Blazers letting Jokic go off but not letting him get anyone else involved that stymied the Denver offense. In Game 2, Lillard went thermonuclear, but once Denver adjusted with Aaron Gordon on him, the rest of the Blazers seemed unable to shift out of “watch Dame carry us” mode and couldn’t keep up with a Nuggets offense that was running much better around Jokic.
Game 3 will offer some insights into what the next steps are for each team in adjusting to what the others are doing. There’s a familiarity between the two teams and coaches that lends itself to a lot of these game-to-game counters and then counters to counters, and while it hasn’t produced the drama of some of the other series, it figures to be a fascinating matchup going forward.